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25 Dead in Escalation of Clashes in Ukraine

Thousands of anti-government protesters remained in the main square in Ukraine's capital Wednesday, after a day of fierce clashes with riot police left at least 25 people dead in the worst violence in three months of political demonstrations.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych has blamed opposition leaders for the violence, which escalated as riot police charged the main opposition protest camp in Kyiv late Tuesday. Mr. Yanukovych said activists who urged others protesters to bring weapons to the anti-government demonstration have disregarded the principles of democracy and must face legal repercussions.

Police and opposition representatives said many of those killed in the unrest were hit by gunshots. Dozens of the injured were serious condition. Nine of the dead were police officers.

European Union officials have called an emergency meeting on Ukraine at which members will discuss whether to impose sanctions on those responsible for the violence.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said she is "deeply worried" about the situation and added that the EU is ready to assist Ukraine in a return to the parliamentary process. She said the EU will consider "all possible options" as responses to the unrest, including "restrictive measures" against those responsible for the violence.

Earlier, Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko met with President Yanukovych for talks, but the meeting failed to produce a breakthrough. Klitschko said the president demanded protesters "stop the standoff" and unconditionally clear the square. He urged the pro-Western demonstrators occupying Kyiv's Independence Square - also known as Maidan - to defend their positions. Thick black smoke could be seen rising from the barricades encircling the protest camp early Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has released a statement saying he is "shocked and gravely concerned" about the escalation of violence and said use of violence by either side is unacceptable.

Ukrainian champion pole vaulter and head of Ukraine's Olympic Committee, Sergei Bubka, made a public appeal for peace Wednesday, calling on both sides to observe the "Olympic truce," a voluntary halt to violence during the international games that take place every two years.

The United States has issued a travel warning for its citizens in Ukraine, warning them to "maintain a low profile" while in the capital and be prepared to remain indoors at night, if necessary to avoid the clashes.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden phoned Mr. Yanukovych late Tuesday to express "grave concern" about the violence, calling on the Ukrainian president to pull back security forces and to exercise maximum restraint. Biden told Mr. Yanukovych his government bears "special responsibility" to resolve the crisis.

Anti-government protests have been building for weeks, with activists calling for Mr. Yanukovych's ouster after he backed away from a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Protesters, some armed with clubs and wearing helmets and body armor, attempted to stand their ground in central Kyiv, hurling firebombs and stones at police as plumes of smoke billowed from burning tents and piles of tires and wood.

Security forces have been steadily gaining ground in the square, where thousands of protesters still remained, hearing speeches from their leaders and singing the national anthem.

Police confirmed the unrest has spread outside Kyiv to a number of regions in western Ukraine that support closer ties to the European Union. In Lviv, anti-government demonstrators seized the regional administration building and police headquarters.

In Moscow, authorities blamed the violence on Western governments, accusing them of encouraging "radical forces" among the protesters.

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